Local News

UNC-Chapel Hill considers new development along East Franklin Street

Posted July 2, 2019 7:30 p.m. EDT

— Some fixtures along East Franklin Street could be on their way out as the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill looks at possibly redeveloping the "Porthole Alley" area.

The school's Board of Trustees approved a draft master plan in May that calls for demolishing a 200-foot strip of buildings just east of Columbia Street to make way for a campus visitors center, offices and new retail space.

The plan would mean places like Carolina Coffee Shop, Johnny T-Shirt, and Cosmic Cantina would either have to move or go out of business.

"It's hard for me to imagine any benefits of demolishing it that would outweigh the loss of this place," said Nick Konz, a rising senior at UNC-Chapel Hill and Cosmic Cantina regular. "If this whole area was demolished, I’m not sure where this place would go, along with other places in this area I go to."

Cosmic Cantina manager Yeshua Sanchez said he just found out about the redevelopment plan.

"It doesn’t surprise me just because, ever since UNC bought this building, we were expecting them to do something with it," said Sanchez, whose family has owned the eatery for 20 years.

"I think Cosmic will always have to be a staple of UNC. I don’t think many people can imagine UNC without Cosmic. It would just be about relocating," he said. "It’ll definitely be kind of sad for something so close to home to be gone."

UNC-Chapel Hill officials emphasized the master plan is still being developed, and there are no definitive plans yet for redevelopment. The plan implies any changes would be done sometime in the next 15 years.

"Plans for Porthole Alley are in early exploratory stages and will involve working closely with the Town of Chapel Hill and our building tenants in a collaborative process," Gordon Merklein, associate vice chancellor for real estate operations, said in a statement.

Like Sanchez, others are sentimental about Franklin Street and don't want to see it changed.

"It’s really nice and convenient to come to Cosmic every day. It’s part of my life almost," said Purush Ramanathan, a rising junior. "I do think it’ll be interesting to see how this demolishment impacts Franklin Street and its character."

"I would understand if they need to tear it down, just because of how landlocked UNC is. They have trouble building new things here all the time," said Tucker Key, a rising senior. "At the same time, I love Franklin Street. I love everything about it, so I would be a little heartbroken if they have to tear it down that way. But I get it"